Memphis

A few days ago, a few of you thought I was dumping on Memphis.  I did say the city is not an economic development success story, but it is perhaps my favorite place to visit in the American South.  It has the best musical traditions, for instance generating Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, all at more or less the same time, with many others later including Lonnie Mack, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T.  It is one of the classic barbecue cities, most of all for ribs.  Beale Street remains a wonderful place to hear music, as it is not nearly as ruined by tourists as Broadway in Nashville or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  It is also one of the American cities most likely to look as if it is still 1963, or is that 1957?  Finally, Memphis is the starting off point for a drive down Highway 61 into the heartland of the Mississippi Delta, one of the essential American journeys and yes you still can hear rural blues music there.

If you have never done a three-day Memphis trip, I would strongly urge this upon you.

Comments

Love Memphis! Underrated by far. It is a city you want to succeed. Some of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet are in Memphis.

I never knew Memphis except driving through it while a kid en route to a southern town my dad grew up in. It's named after an Egyptian city (as is Alexandria, named after Alexander the Great) and somebody said 'it has great titty bars'. And BBQ. And country music. So they say. Didn't Taylor Swift sing there? She has a nice body, more full now, I saw her on TV the other day.

Frenchmen Street is a much better place to hear music in New Orleans than Bourbon Street.

Absolutely.

Which calls the claim about Memphis music into serious question.

New Orleans has much better food, too.

A few years back I made a road trip through the Midwest and intentionally avoided St Louis and Memphis. Too dangerous.

Wow! Was planning a 3 day Memphis trip and had to cancel. Will get this back on schedule ASAP! And good to hear my intuition that this would be more interesting and authentic than Nashville holds up (big blues and rock and roll music fan).

Pretty much everybody I told prior was surprised that I wasn’t go Nashville instead, so we can see where the conventional wisdom stands as well.

on the other hand
if you if you go to Nashville on December 31
you can go see
John Prine
at the Opry House
if its not already sold out

on the other hand if you choose memphis you could
just take a short drive down to Meridian, Miss.
and go see John Prine
this Thursday October 26th
at the Riley Center

go see John Prine on October 26th

you can walk down beale street
wearing your pajamas
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1to3MmhtN_M

The home of Shelby Foote from 1952 (he was born in Greenville, MS in 1916) until his death in 2005 (at age 88). To get the historical feel of the place (to step back in time) watch the 3-hour interview of Foote by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN. https://www.c-span.org/video/?165823-1/depth-shelby-foote

I'm reading Shelby Foote's Civil War 3 vol tome. He's a fine writer that tried to emulate Faulkner, until the latter told him to stop it and just be himself.

You are right about Faulkner. Foote's boyhood and lifelong best friend was Walker Percy, who I think wrote the most beautiful sentences I have read. Try The Moviegoer, his debut novel. I have it and read from it from time to time just to marvel at his sentences.

Percy was ironic and engaging (but not inspiring). His sentences weren't beautiful.

If we're making author recommendations, I have to mention Peter Taylor. He's perhaps the best writer Memphis produced. His short story collection _The Old Forest and Other Stories_ and his novel _A Summons to Memphis_ are both exceptional, though often overlooked in discussions of classic Southern literature.

Memphis is indeed underrated in the South. Music and history abound. A Sun Records tour is an obvious choice, but don't sleep on Stax Records! People often forget how important Memphis is in the soul world. It's harder to get to, but touring Stax Records is I think an essential visit.

Aside from music, the Civil Rights museum is a DC-quality museum in the heart of Memphis where the Lorraine Hotel used to be. Seeing MLK Jr's hotel room is an experience you're not likely to forget. The museum also reminds you how segregated Memphis still is (even more so than other American cities, and I'm saying this having lived in Chicago for the past few years)...if it wasn't apparent simply driving through different Memphis neighborhoods. Also, Central Bbq is down the street, which is great.

Touring Graceland is a must as well. Agreed, Memphis warrants a three-day trip or at least a full weekend!

About 10 years ago, while living temporarily in Birmingham AL we took a road trip with our 7 year old twins, to Tupelo MS, Memphis and Nashville. We loved Memphis. Stayed at the Peabody, hung out on Beale street, ate twice at the Renezvous, took in a AAA baseball game and, of course, Graceland and Sun records. Then we drove around Nashville for a couple of hours and went home.

Having lived in Memphis for well over a decade, I was overjoyed when I finally managed to LEAVE. I don't miss it. I miss a couple of friends, but we stay in touch. Memphis in particular, and the Mississippi delta region in general, are a troubled region. Unlike Atlanta, the black subculture seems unable to rise out of the debilitation of the Jim Crow days. That made the city a most depressing place. BTW - what place does FedEx have in all this "success" rating business? HQ is still there, isn't it? It's also still a major airline hub city. And the riverboat casinos added something to the general prosperity. But dump on Memphis all you want - it's not on my list of places to go - and I won't be putting it there.

Atlanta is boring and though I haven’t visited Memphis i know it’s cultural/music output is far greater. But from a pure economic perspective Atlanta, Charlotte, etc may be ahead.

+1. Memphis might be one of those places people may like to visit, but wouldn't want to live there. I had friends there that were so happy to get out after living in a bad neighborhood and being robbed. From insurance perspective, theft rates are very high compared to most areas in the south.

Memphis is hub only for Fedex, no passenger airlines - Delta dehubbed it after the NWA merger and now they are planning to demolish a good chunk of it to make it more useful as a small airport.

Lonnie Mack's breakthrough hit, 'Memphis' was in 1963. He dropped out of school at the age of 13 and began his career as a musician in the mid-1950s with a counterfeit ID. Also Booker T's first big hit, 'Green Onions' was in 1962.

Memphis must be an acquired taste. I wouldn't recommend it. Go with very low expectations, avoid public transit, ignore beggers, don't carry anything with you that you might mind losing, I wouldn't bring family, but if you are young, single, like bar crawls, and are comfortable with the risk of being a victim of criminals.... go ahead, hope you have a great time.

Agreed, Memphis is probably a more interesting place if you are young, single and not afraid of crime.

Otherwise go to Nashville.

Like Rio, nearby the favella?

The chintzy pyramid on the riverfront is one of the largest monuments to bad taste I have come across anywhere (in Vegas it might be transparent or invisible, along the Mississippi, it screams, yells, and spits "poor taste"). Someone should be charged with its demolition and removal: must be the ugliest damned thing along the entire river.

Had a great day at the Memphis Zoo once, sometime before Elvis died.

Well, you did dump on Memphis....

As a proud Memphian, I appreciate the kind words. Memphis has had a rough couple of decades, but the community genuinely seems to be on the upswing. There's an optimism now that wasn't present even a few years ago.

There are proportionately fewer burglaries and car thefts than there were 15 years ago. Otherwise, the place is treading water at best in this regard. The worst homicide rate recorded since 2001 was recorded in 2016.

Memphis has a homicide rate of 20 per 100,000 in a typical year. That's not unusual for a core city. The thing is, a representative core city encompasses about 1/3 of the metropolitan settlement and half it's population consists of slums or sketchy neighborhoods adjacent to slums. Memphis encompasses about 75% of the metropolitan settlement. The homicide rate for the whole settlement would be around 15 per 100,000, or 2.5x the metropolitan mean of the country at large. BTW, the most troubled police precinct in NYC has homicide rates which are currently running around 16 per 100,000.

All that's replicated in other statistics. In the core city, the rape rate is around 67 per 100,000 (2.6x national means), the robbery rate is around 620 per 100,000 (nearly 6x national means and 4x metropolitan means), aggravated assault is around 1,125 per 100,000 (> 4x national means), burglary is around 2,000 per 100,000 (> 4x national means), and car theft bounces around 800 per 100,000 (> 3x national means).

You might have a more robust local economy if Memphis were a more agreeable place to live. Which means you have to work to suppress the street crime (and it's sidecar passenger, school disorder). Which seems invariably the last thing local governments want to address.

Democrats ran a clean sweep in Shelby County's most recent round of elections, and it seems to signal a genuine shift of focus for local government. I suspect that there will be signs of clear progress in coming years on the issues you've enumerated. I don't mean to minimize the scope of the challenge--as you've rightly pointed out Memphis is a city with deep systemic problems. Still, the resources for a successful rejuvenation are present, and there seems to finally be the will to utilize them.

Democrats ran a clean sweep in Shelby County

And Shelby county was previously run by Republicans?

Oh yes. While the city government has been controlled by a very dysfunctional Democratic party, the county government has long been dominated by austerity-oriented Republicans. That's changed now. And the Democratic Party in the area has also been reconstituted and reformed after having been dissolved by the state party some months ago. The takeaway is that a newly functioning Democratic Party has assumed control of both county and city government for the first time in quite a while.

About 60% of the manpower in law enforcement in Shelby County is found in the municipal police forces, not the sheriff's department. If you're talking about the manpower devoted to investigation and patrol (as opposed to the jail and the bailiff's corps), the share located in the municipal police forces is > 80%. In any case, you're sheriff has been in office for 8 years and was a lifer in the city police prior to that. The current chief of police has been promoted within the ranks since 1990 and was one of about half-a-dozen deputy chiefs for seven years before being placed in charge of the department on an interim basis (later made permanent by your new mayor). I wouldn't be holding my breath for performance improvements.

I'd say that if visiting Memphis you have to add the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, just for the weirdness of the whole thing, and how can one talk about stuff to see in Memphis and skip Graceland? Sun Records studio?

Sure, Memphis used to have great music. But that is history. Are you really suggesting that the blues you will see on Beale today is very good? This claim seems preposterous, unless you can't tell the difference between what the greats sounded like and what the fakes sound like.

Or perhaps you like touring music museums and such. If you like that, fine, but I prefer my music live.

The Memphis Hip Hop scene is on the cusp of something big. To quote Devin Steele, DJ for K97 FM, "Just with Yo Gotti, BlocBoy JB, Moneybagg Yo, and Young Dolph, alone. About a month ago, all four of those artists had records in the top 20. You hear Memphis records on the radio in every major city now." And of course there's a burgeoning hip hop community that's yet to get much radio play. The Memphis Flyer published a good piece on this some months back: https://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/memphis-hip-hop-renaissance/Content?oid=14009539

"Are you really suggesting that the blues you will see on Beale today is very good?" Yes, that's exactly what he's saying!!

Macon, Georgia is even more underrated but has ever bit as much of a historical music scene as Memphis. Otis Redding, Little Richard, Allman Brothers Band, and country star Jason Aldean all grew up or got famous in Macon. And the soul food and BBQ are excellent.

So Tyler, or anyone, what would your three day Memphis and Delta tour consist of?

As a former Memphian, I certainly noticed it's mention in that past post and appreciate the clarification. It's a quirky city that presents itself without pretention. The food can be great (try Tom's BBQ and or breakfast at one of the many Mexican restaurants on Summer Ave. or around the airport). The history of the city is compelling and important--especially re: race relations/civil rights and music (as Tyler notes). Two recommendations if you're thinking of going to Memphis:

1. Check out this book
https://www.amazon.com/Memphis-Type-History-Stories-Around/dp/0692308059/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1540175295&sr=8-1&keywords=memphis+type+history

2. Take the opportunity to travel down to Clarksdale, MS on the second weekend of April (any year) to enjoy the wonderful Juke Joint Festival...a fantastic blues festival I consider to be one of the great cultural experiences in America today. This is a Memphis recommendation not because a lack of great things to do in Memphis, but because of how great and special this blues festival is. I currently in in China, and while there is very little I miss about the US right now, the Juke Joint Blues Festival tops the list.

"Memphis is the starting off point for a drive down Highway 61 into the heartland of the Mississippi Delta, one of the essential American journeys and yes you still can hear rural blues music there."

I took a different route through the Mississippi delta, the Natchez Trace Parkway, although it has some overlap with Highway 61. There's tons of history on the Natchez Trace Parkway, with more historic sites than the Blue Ridge Parkway has (but fewer mountains).

So it's more for tourists and not for current residents or commerce. I'm not sure that' s much of a loss though. Places such as Jackson, Vicksburg, and Natchez reminded me of New Orleans, plenty of interesting stuff for the tourist to see and do, with rampant poverty and underdevelopment outside the tourist areas. The un-touristy towns that I saw in Mississippi vie with West Virginia for the most impoverished looking places that I've seen in the US.

Traveling on the interstates in MS is much like traveling on the interstates anywhere in the US. But off of those thoroughfares, even fairly prominent highways in MS take one through rundown hamlets where I half-expected to see some old-timer on the porch twanging the blues on a guitar.

Steve mentioned it, but Memphis always seems to me like a larger Macon, GA. Quite a musical history, but man, what a sorry bunch of low-value underclass criminals in those cities. Nobody wants to live around that.

Just looking on paper, outsiders conclude that these cities are still segregated like the old days. Nope, not even remotely the same issue. Anyone with the means and a lick of sense, regardless of race, wants to get away from the sub-human trash in those cities.

I just got back from three days in Memphis. My family and I had a great time and enjoyed the things mentioned by others. The pyramid is weird, but it is a fun place to people watch.
I actually spent two additional days in nearby Mississippi visiting Tupelo with the Elvis birthplace and Oxford to see the old Faulkner place.
I don’t know if the opportunities for economic advancement for a high school graduate of median ability are favorable.

Memphis has a fairly large bond-market/financial presence. FTN Financial, the former First Tennessee is headquartered there, and their bond division is quite large and generates some pretty large revenues and very decent salaries/commissions.

There are also other large bond desks such as Sun Trust, Vining Sparks and others which escape me currently located there. There is still a hint of the old southern "bond daddies" but it's gotten a lot more respectable.

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